Rock Hudson’s Best Movie

Anne Helen Petersen has written an intriguing, sad article about Rock Hudson and the gay agent who packaged him and other gay men as movie stars. She argues that Hudson’s sexuality actually made him more attractive to a certain segment of heterosexual women in the 1950s and 1960s precisely because he was handsome, charming, kind and at the same time (from a straight woman’s viewpoint) asexual and therefore unthreatening. Petersen closes the piece with well-deserved praise for Hudson’s handling of his HIV infection and subsequent wasting away, which galvanized public sympathy for AIDS victims.

Hudson wasn’t a top-notch actor, but he was a great movie star. He will probably be most remembered for his massively popular films with Doris Day (who at the age of 87, has a new album out! Check out her chat yesterday with her pal and fan Paul McCartney). But what is Rock Hudson’s best film?

Some movie fans would argue for Giant, which remains highly watchable today despite it’s staggeringly long running time. But the scenes in that film which stay with you are mainly those with James Dean and/or Elizabeth Taylor rather than Hudson, whose character is much flatter than theirs.

So I am going to go instead with Seconds, which very few people even remember today. It features an atypical role for Hudson and he does well with it, maybe because he could identify with the main character, who had to pretend to be someone he was not in order to “pass”. My all-time favorite cinematographer, James Wong Howe, goes over the top with strange lenses and moving shots, starting with the Vertigo-esque opening titles, which amplifies tonally the weird story that that the film tells.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

8 thoughts on “Rock Hudson’s Best Movie”

  1. I remember when Seconds showed on TV, because we got the phone call that my aunt had died of cancer during it.

  2. @ Herschel:

    He chose it because it’s an interesting independent film made within the studio system. The story (no spoilers) was, at the time, metaphorical but now can be seen as visionary — or maybe it’s the other way around. Hudson is better than usual (even though he was rarely downright bad) and the supporting cast was good, particularly Will Geer and (exceptionally) Murray Hamilton. I didn’t realize that Howe was the cinematographer — that explains a lot.

  3. And Netflix isn’t the be-all and end-all of movie availability — your local library might have a copy of Seconds. Mine does.

  4. karl has the perfect turn of phrase an “independent film made within the studio system” — Frakenheimer was one of people who knew how to pull this trick off, and the historical time was right in terms of how studios were being run then.

    I got “Seconds” from a public library after reading about it in a cinema history book. My general experience in a number of parts of the country is that if your public library is in a network with a few others in a county or city, you can get an impressive array of movies from it.

  5. Good pick. Seconds is a very interesting, and unknown, film and unlike any other film Rock Hudson made. More like a long Twilight Zone episode. Hope this post gets others to see it. But, probably not RH’s best.

  6. Michael: Thanks for the Twilight Zone analogy, that resonates. I am curious what you would consider Rock’s best — one of the Sirk films?

  7. Well, I just went to IMDB to look through his other films trying to find one where he was better but failed. I now agree with you. Seconds may be his best – he thought so.

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